We could never forget the events that had led to my brother Jem’s injury. His elbow was so badly broken that when it healed, his left arm was somewhat shorter than his right and when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. But as he was able to play football jut as well as before the accident, he was seldom self- conscious about that injury. He was nearly thirteen then.
When we grew older and looked back on the years of our childhood, we sometimes discussed the events that had happened before that accident. I think that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said that it started that summer when Dill came to us and suggested that we should make Boo Radley come out.
I couldn’t agree with him. I advised him to take a broader view and to begin with Simon Finch because where would we be if he hadn’t come to live in Alabama? We were at the age when we didn’t settle our arguments with fist-fights any longer, so we consulted Atticus. Our father said we were both right.
We were Southerners, so it was a source of shame to some members of the family that we had no recorded ancestors on either side of the Battle of Hastings. All we had was Simon Finch from Cornwall. Simon called himself a Methodist. In England, Methodists were persecuted by their more liberal brethren, so he worked his way across the Atlantic to Philadelphia, thence to Jamaica, thence to Mobile, and up the Saint Stephens. He practiced medicine there and made a lot of money. Simon called himself a Methodist, and he knew that it was not for the glory of God to buy and wear expensive clothes and gold things. So he had forgotten his teacher’s opinion on the possession of human chattels and bought three slaves and with their help established a homestead on the banks of the Alabama River some forty miles above Saint Stephens. He returned to Saint Stephens only once, to find a wife. Simon lived to a very old age and died rich.
The men in the family usually remained on Simon’s homestead, Finch’s Landing, and made their living from cotton. The place was self-sufficient: modest in comparison with the empires around it, the Landing nevertheless produced everything necessary for life except ice, wheat flour, and clothes. Those were brought by riverboats from Mobile.
In the war between the North and the South Simon’s descendants lost everything except their land, but the tradition of living on the land remained until the twentieth century, when my father, Atticus Finch, went to Montgomery to study law, and his younger brother went to Boston to study medicine. Their sister Alexandra was the Finch who remained at the Landing: she married a man who seldom said anything and spent most of his time in a hammock by the river.
When my father was admitted to the bar, he returned to Maycomb and began his practice. Maycomb, some twenty miles east of Finch’s Landing, was the county seat of Maycomb County. Atticus’s office in the courthouse contained little more than a hat rack, a spittoon, a checkerboard and an unsullied Code of Alabama. His first two clients were the last two persons who were hanged in the Maycomb County jail. Atticus had advised them to plead Guilty to second-degree murder and save their lives, but they were Haverfords, in Maycomb County a name synonymous with jackass. The Haverfords had murdered Maycomb’s best blacksmith. They mistakenly accused him of the wrongful detention of a mare and killed him in the presence of three witnesses, and insisted that «the-son-of-a-bitch- had-invited-it» was a good enough defense for anybody. They didn’t listen to Atticus and pleaded Not Guilty to first-degree murder, so there was nothing much Atticus could do for his clients except be present at their departure, an occasion that was probably the beginning of my father’s deep dislike for the practice of criminal law.
During his first five years in Maycomb, Atticus practiced economy more than anything; for several years thereafter he invested his earnings in his brother’s education. John Hale Finch was ten years younger than my father, and chose to study medicine at a time when cotton growing didn’t bring profit; but after Uncle Jack started working, Atticus got not a bad income from the law. He liked Maycomb, he was born and grew up in Maycomb County; he knew his people, they knew him, and because of Simon Finch’s industry, Atticus was related by blood or marriage to nearly every family in the town.
Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red mud; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse went to decline in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day. Men’s starched collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.